A Dermatologist Breaks Down How to Treat an Infected Piercing in 7 Easy Steps

Cardinal rule #1: Don't remove the jewelry.

Piercings add a subtle edge to any look, whether you mark your nose with a septum ring or stack studs along your ear. Nowadays, a wide variety of ear and body piercings are commonplace and cool. But what’s not cool? When those piercings become infected. Yeah, not so selfie-worthy.

Unfortunately, infected piercings aren’t rare, especially when they’re fresh. It turns out, stabbing holes in your skin lends itself to germs, naturally. So, if you’ve finally gotten that cartilage piercing, make sure you’re cleaning it properly to avoid infection. However, infected piercings can happen due to simply the jewelry material or bacteria that has entered the area. If you’re unlucky and notice some irritation, we’ve got you covered on how to treat an infected piercing, stat.

Slight infections that manifest themselves via slight redness or warmth are easy to clear up at home. However, sometimes, seeing a doctor is necessary to treat a more severely infected piercing. Below, board-certified dermatologist Debra Jaliman, M.D., breaks down how to treat an infected piercing, anywhere on your face or body.

How to treat an infected piercing:

1. Confirm that it’s infected.

First thing’s first: Determine that your piercing is definitely infected. “Signs of an infection include redness, tenderness, possible swelling around the area, pus, or crust,” Dr. Jaliman explains. “A severe infection might involve a fever.”

If you notice any of these symptoms, take a close look at your piercing and consider if you’re dealing with an infection. If you’re running a fever, hit the doctor’s office.

2. Consider the jewelry material.

Next, if you’ve decided that you do in fact have an infected piercing, think about the jewelry you’re currently wearing. Everyone’s skin reacts differently to certain materials, but Dr. Jaliman recommends sticking to jewelry made of “skin-safe metals like surgical steel, platinum, or 14 karat gold.” The most common jewelry allergy is famously nickel, so watch out for that metal if you’re prone to skin reactions.

“[However,] 14k gold still does contain some trace of nickel and can cause a reaction,” Dr. Jaliman points out. “Any type of jewelry under the alloy metal category can cause a reaction or lead to an infection. White gold tends to have nickel, so I would stay away from anything gold plated or under 14k.”

If you don’t think the jewelry is the cause, you may be dealing with a bacterial infection.

3. Don’t remove your jewelry.

Although your natural inclination may be to immediately remove the jewelry from your infected piercing, don’t pull the trigger so fast.

“It’s always best to see a physician if your piercing is infected, and they will tell you whether to leave it in or remove it, depending on how infected it is,” Dr. Jaliman explains. “If it’s an allergic reaction to the material, you should definitely have it removed, but if it’s just slightly infected, you should leave the jewelry in and treat it so that the piercing doesn’t close with bacteria inside. Your doctor can best determine what should be done.”

If you’ve decided that your infection is minor (signs of slight irritation) and you’d like to treat it at home, leave the jewelry in the piercing while treating it.

4. Wash your hands.

This might sound like a no-brainer, but any time you’re handling a skin reaction, it’s essential to make sure your hands are clean so you don’t allow more germs to, ahem, enter the chat.

5. Clean the area with gentle soap.

Use any gentle soap that you have handy for cleansing your face or body to clean the area all around the piercing with a cotton swab. Make sure to gently pat the area dry, too.

7. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the infected area.

Next, reach for an antibiotic ointment, recommended by a dermatologist. If you don’t have easy access to a doctor and are looking for more instant relief, there are over-the-counter ointments that will do the trick.

8. Avoid touching the infection.

When something is irritated or itchy, it’s natural to want to touch the area, but this will only make matters worse. Avoid touching the piercing for as long as you can to give it space to heal.

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